5 Tips for Smart Packing

We’ve been back from our trip to Italy for three weeks now and I’m still not ready to let it go. So I’ll continue dragging out this blog series by sharing some tips I have on packing for long trips.

Not pictured: The evil black duffel bag
Not pictured: The evil black duffel bag

During our first trip to Italy, we used Blake’s large backpack and then brought a separate duffel bag to hold all of our stuff (and all the things we purchased along the way). By the end of that trip, I wanted to set that duffel bag on fire. It was difficult to carry, especially when crammed full, and it made it hard to maneuver through crowds. As soon as we returned from that trip, we headed straight to REI to buy a smaller backpack for me. If you are planning a multi-city trip, or will be using lots of public transportation and walking to get around, you have to get one of these backpacks. It is no fun to drag one of those more than a few blocks, plus no one wants to hear your wheeled suitcase bumping along cobblestone roads.

His and hers backpacks
His and hers backpacks

Now that we have our bags, deciding what to put in them for a 10 day trip can be the hard part. Here are my five tips for packing for a longer trip.

#1 – check the weather. Hopefully you won’t be going to several different climates during your trip, which makes it easier to narrow down the types of clothing you need. For this trip, we saw some lows in the upper 50s and highs in the upper 70s, just depending on where we were in the country.

#2 – learn about how the local dress. In many places outside the US, locals don’t wear shorts except to the beach or in very hot climates. Meals at restaurants might also be less casual than you are used to, so it can be helpful to do some research ahead of time. You should also consider the places you will be visiting. Many churches request women to cover shoulders and legs before going inside. While it is easy to pack a large scarf for these occasions, impromptu covering of legs can be a challenge.  Plan to wear long skirts or pants on days you will visit conservative locations.

Layering is key - add a scarf and jacket for chilly evenings.
Layering is key – add a scarf and jacket for chilly evenings.

#3 – book an apartment or hotel that has access to a washer/dryer. We typically always use AirBnB and try to strategically book somewhere with a washer halfway through the trip. This makes it easy to do a load or two of laundry and allow for air drying before our next destination. This means less to pack and more room in your bags for new purchases. 😉

#4 – stick with items that you can layer and mix to create several outfits. I try to pack 3-4 pairs of pants and several shirts that go with at least 2 of the pairs of pants. That way if you end up with gelato on something, you haven’t lost an entire outfit until you can do laundry. I also try to stick with one neutral pair of shoes that go with everything since shoes are often the heaviest item in the bag. I’ll pack a day pair of shoes for all the walking around, then a pair of sandals or maybe Tieks for the shorter walks to dinner in the evening.

I packed 3 pairs of pants for this trip - white jeans, blue jeans, and black casual slacks.
I packed 3 pairs of pants for this trip – white jeans, blue jeans, and black casual slacks.

#5 – invest in travel size toiletries for everything you would normally use. They make smaller versions of many products, or you can buy a few sets of travel size bottles and fill with your products. You can also find travel size makeup brush kits, hair straighteners and curling irons. I would avoid the smaller hair dryers. Most hotels and AirBnB hosts have these already and it is very easy to blow up a power converter trying to use your US hairdryer in another country. Plus lugging around a hair dryer in a backpack seems like a horrible plan.

I did pretty well and only packed one shirt that I never wore during the trip. Normally I have at least a few pieces, so maybe I’m finally getting the hang of things. I should probably book another trip so I can practice packing again!

Dresses can be a good option for the daytime, just add some casual shoes for walking.
Dresses can be a good option for the daytime, just add some casual shoes for walking.

These are just a few ideas to help you get organized for a long trip. My sister likes to pack older clothes that she can leave behind or throw away during the trip. This is genius – it makes more room for purchases and means less laundry when you get home! What are your tips for packing?

Kendra Sig

Trains, Planes and Boats, Oh My! Solving the Travel Puzzle

It started in 2013 on our first trip to Italy.  From the minute we made it out of Rome and into Tuscany, I was completely hooked on all things Italy. The gorgeous rolling hills, scenic tiny towns, delicious food and wine, and friendly people were so amazing on our first trip that I immediately wanted to return. But big trips like that take saving and planning, so it wasn’t until this year that we were able to start booking flights. One of my favorite things about travel is the process of putting together a trip itinerary and figuring out the puzzle pieces of transportation, which cities to visit, and where to stay. Here is the basic outline of how I like to plan an international trip:

  1. Pick the places you want to visit
  2. Using that list of places, figure out the best airport to use for arrival and departure
  3. Using the start and ending airport, fill in the number of days you would like to spend in each location
  4. Grab a Rick Steve’s guide or visit TripAdvisor.com and learn about the best ways to get to and from each city. Once you know the right form of transportation, you can look up schedules and determine the best days for travel between locations.
  5. Start booking on AirBnB!

It’s like a nerdy travel puzzle, and I love it!

The first decision we made was to stick to the southern portion of the country. Since our first trip took us to Rome, Tuscany and Milan, we wanted to head south and see what else we could discover. We did want to avoid Naples if possible, so that eliminated that as a possible airport choice. After going back and forth, we finally decided on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily, eliminating Lecce from our short list due to the amount of travel time it would take to get to Lecce and then back across the country to Sicily. I’m still a bit sad about that, but I guess it just means we will have to go again another time. 🙂

With a list of cities selected, I decided to book flights in and out of Rome. Since our flight landed pretty early in the morning, we decided to book a train from Rome to Salerno the same day, getting us closer to the Amalfi Coast without spending a night in Rome. As it turned out, we had enough time between our flight’s arrival and when our train departed that we were able to wander over to the Trevi Fountain. It has recently been cleaned and was absolutely stunning in the sunlight.

trevi

After arriving in Salerno, I wanted to catch to ferry directly to Amalfi, but my husband is smart and figured that after more than 24 hours of travel, we should probably stay the night in Salerno. As it turns out, we had one of our best meals that night, so I’m glad he talked some sense into me while we were scheduling apartments on AirBnB.

The next morning we headed to Amalfi on a ferry, which is a pretty typical way of transit around the Amalfi Coast. We made Amalfi our homebase and made day trips to Positano, Ravello, and Capri. Of all the places we visited, Amalfi and Ravello were our favorites by far. Our apartment in Amalfi was right next to the Duomo.

That is our laundry hanging outside our window. And duomo just above!
That is our laundry hanging outside our window. And duomo just above!

Our next stop on this tour of Italy was Catania, which is a major city on the island of Sicily. We debated about renting a car and driving, but a coworker from Italy advised against this, due to construction along that road. We booked a train instead, avoiding the hassle of the airport. The best part about this train is that it actually rolls onto a ferry to make the crossing to Sicily. I find this freaking AWESOME. Unfortunately, when I booked the train, I failed to check the ferry schedule as well. There was not a ferry early enough to get us to Salerno to catch our train. So we ended up on a very crowded one hour bus ride from Amalfi to Salerno. One lady even used my shoulder as an armrest for part of the trip. So take a lesson from me – check the ferry schedule. 🙂

This is our train. On a boat. On the ocean!
This is our train. On a boat. On the ocean!

After arriving in Catania, we had a lazy day where we slept in, had a late lunch, and wandered the city before heading back to our apartment for a nap. If you are on a longer trip, I highly recommend you take a day to really do nothing. No museums, no churches. Just eating, laying around, and maybe some people watching with your wine. I’m glad we took a day to relax, because our next three days were jam packed with sightseeing.

We started by picking up our rental car and heading to Valley of the Temples.  It is just over 2 hours from Sicily to Agrigento, but when you aren’t familiar with the signage, and possibly can’t figure out the map your husband downloaded, you make quite a few u-turns and it adds to the trip time. Oops! Fortunately we didn’t have a tight schedule.

 

 

Driving in Italy - a whole new world
Driving in Italy – a whole new world
Valley of the Temples
Valley of the Temples

After Valley of the Temples, we drove about fifteen minutes to the southern coast of Sicily to find the Scala dei Turchi, also known as the Turkish Steps. This amazing seaside rock formation literally looks like white steps on the side of the sea. Even with the haze, the views were beautiful and well worth the side trip.

turchi

The next morning we enjoyed an interesting experience with a parking garage attendant while trying to find a place for our rental car for the day. Fortunately the tiny bit of Italian we knew, plus a very nice stranger helped us limp through that transaction. Pro tip – parking in big cities in any country is a pain. Ask your host or hotel for advice on parking locations and costs.

After storing the car for the day, we met up with a local guide for a food and wine tour in the Mount Etna region. It was wonderful to escape the city and the heat, try some wonderful food and wine from the region, and learn about Italy from a local. Check TripAdvisor and Rick Steve’s guides for reviews and recommendations of local tour guides.

We found the wine!
We found the wine!

On our last full day in Sicily, we headed out in the rental car again for a trip to Ortigia. Fortunately, it was a much easier drive this time and we made it there easily. We spent the day wandering the city, revisiting places the husband remembered from a month he spent there for school, and having a lazy lunch of delicious seafood. In the late afternoon we went a bit further south and spent an hour on the beach, just relaxing and enjoying the sea. Having a car gave us great flexibility, but I think I still prefer using public transportation and walking.

ortigia

After our time in Sicily, we caught a flight back to Rome for one last night before our return trip. We wandered the city, visited the Spanish Steps, and had one last gelato. The last puzzle piece of the trip was complete when we boarded our flight back to the States.

Last gelato
Last gelato

Now, which travel puzzle should we solve next?

Kendra Sig

My Favorite Things: Dallas Edition Part 1

I often get this question from family or friends who want to show visitors around town – What is there to do in Dallas? It is a pretty loaded question. With so much going on in a small area, it can be hard to narrow down. Here is Part 1 of my favorite things in Dallas.

Espresso at Cafe Strada

espresso

Cafe Strada is on a great little pedestrian side street in downtown Dallas. After ordering your coffee (or gelato!), grab a seat at one of their small tables and do some people watching. With the Joule hotel across the street and a 30-foot giant sculpture of an eyeball, there is plenty to see while you enjoy your coffee.

Catch a ride in an e-frog

Getting around the different neighborhoods of downtown can be difficult if you have a large group. While many areas are walkable, it can be overwhelming to get around if you are new to town. So when you need to go from downtown to Deep Ellum, Uptown, the Arts district, Fair Park, the Cedars, or anywhere in between, text an e-frog! These electric motor, open-air carts can hold 5 adults comfortably and are easily reached via text. Just let them know your name and how many in your group and they will send someone over. We recently coordinated 2 carts to take a group of friends from our house to Klyde Warren Park for a few hours of fun. No one had to find parking and we had a great time.  Note – these guys do not charge a fee for the ride, so tip your driver well!

See the sloths at Dallas World Aquarium

sloths
Sloths!!

While I would argue the DWA is more tropical forest and less aquarium, it is still a great place to see some animals and other creatures when it is too hot or too rainy for the zoo. Also, my attention span for museums and zoos is pretty short, so the smaller footprint of the aquarium suits me just fine. After you enter, you will wind through 2 levels of rain forest with all kinds of monkeys and birds. Because you start at the tops of the trees, you have lots of opportunities to spot different animals. Moving further down, the exhibits with lizards and snakes start, and at the very bottom of the building are all the tanks. There are also sloths, penguins, and a panther. While the small footprint of the building makes for 1-2 hours of fun, it also means it can be crowded. Aim to be there when it first opens to avoid the crowds, or go during the week.

kids
My adorable nephews had fun too!

Take a stroll on the Santa Fe Trestle Trail

nature

I’ve posted about the Santa Fe Trestle Trail before, but you truly can’t miss this bit of nature in the middle of the city. Whether you have 20 minutes or 2 hours, experiencing how quiet it can be inside the levees while you are right next to the city is something you shouldn’t miss.

Klyde Warren Park – See what happens when you build a park over a highway

happy
We returned soggy kids to their parents after this trip. Pro tip – bring a towel!

This 5 acre park is built over a highway and connect the Arts District with Uptown. On a nice day, every bit of this park will be packed with people lounging in the sun, playing in the fountains, enjoying some free yoga, or grabbing a snack at the many food trucks. My favorite thing to do is find a seat and do some people watching while enjoying a beer. While the park offers plenty of space for people, there is very little parking. Grab a trolley or an e-frog and leave the car at home.

Meet new friends at Full Circle Tavern

This patio is Tucker approved.
This patio is Tucker approved.

After all this exploring, you will be starving. Make your way to the Cedars and grab a drink and a meal at Full Circle Tavern. They have a great shaded patio and are dog friendly, so bring along your four-legged friends too. The owners at FCT are super friendly and take extra care to be sure you enjoy your food and your time in their tavern. The servers and bartenders complete the experience by making you feel right at home. The husband says order the grilled cheese with bacon and an egg – you won’t regret it.

End your day with a drink and some music at Lee Harvey’s

Lee Harvey’s was a neighborhood staple long before we moved here. Considered a dive bar, it has evolved over the years into a great place for a burger and a beer. Seating is mostly outdoors and long picnic tables give you space to hang out and chat with friends, or enjoy some live music. Bands are booked on most Friday and Saturday evenings. It is a great place to wind down your day before heading back home.

My list could go on forever, but I’ll stop Part 1 here. What are some of your favorite places in Dallas?

Kendra Sig

Urban Living, Dallas Style

big
Everything is bigger in…Dallas

In a few short months, my fellow NonBlonde Amanda will be moving to the suburbs permanently. I recently visited her part of town and I was surprised by how out of my element I’ve felt! I’ve lived in the city for almost nine years and I’m no longer used to the daily life of suburbia. Although I would say Amanda’s new part of town is still just a little bit country too. 🙂

I love living in the city. We can walk to our neighborhood bars and restaurants, there is a great local coffee shop, and we even have a movie theater now. A short bike ride puts us in Deep Ellum or the Arts District, and a 5 minute ride on the #2 DART bus puts us right in the heart of the Main Street District.

Surprisingly, even land-locked Dallas County has some great natural beauty. The Trinity River runs nearby and the Santa Fe Trestle Trail runs in between the levies and is a great place for biking or walking. The city noise fades away and you can enjoy some time in a natural space, with the downtown skyline just behind you.

2015-05-11 (1)

nature

I’ve spent the majority of my life living in suburbs or smaller towns. Moving into a more urban area was a whole new adventure. Our part of town is under a renovation of sorts, so many of the residents were new as well. Within two weeks, my husband and I had met more neighbors than the two years we lived in North Dallas. Everyone had an interest in knowing their neighbors, for various reasons. First of all, the neighborhood still had some rough parts, so knowing who should and shouldn’t be on the property is important information. Second, many of our friends and family didn’t live close enough for regular gatherings, so meeting neighbors led to new social circles. Once we learned a nearby restaurant had half-price food on Wednesday’s, a group of neighbors regularly met there for delicious food and good company. Our new home had a true community feel, something I didn’t even know we had been missing.

IMG_20140416_203922
View from the neighborhood

Will we live in the city forever? Who knows! Every now and then we drive through other neighborhoods farther away from the city center, but it always comes back to how much we love our community, and we aren’t quite ready to leave that.

Kendra Sig

Colorado for People Who Don’t Ski

Not a bad view to see each morning.
Not a bad view to see each morning.

My husband loves to snow ski. When the temperature starts to drop, you can bet he will start watching snow reports in Colorado and figuring out when he can get away for a few days on the mountain. Unfortunately, I do not share his love of skiing (or his athletic abilities), so this is typically not my favorite vacation. But the last two trips we’ve taken I’ve actually found a few things to do that I’m happy to share with my fellow non-skiers.

In 2015, we headed to Keystone for 6 days. Knowing there was no way I could stay in a condo by myself for that many days without losing my mind, I checked out TripAdvisor for some good ways to kill the time.  First up was an afternoon trip to Frisco Adventure Park for some tubing. We visited on a Wednesday and basically had the tubing hill to ourselves. After making friends with the staff, we rode the magic carpet to the top of the hill and proceeded to slide down the hill on tubes round after round. The guys at the top of the hill had a great time sending us spinning and showing us how to connect our tubes so we could all go down the hill together. I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile and I think we all enjoyed it – even the seasoned skiers who I dragged along. Prices are reasonable and reservations are recommended. If it is crowded, consider booking more than 1 hour to be sure you have enough time to get in plenty of runs while waiting your turn in line. Since we were the only ones there, 1 hour was enough for our group.

You can see he isn't quite sure what I've signed us up for.
You can see he isn’t quite sure what I’ve signed us up for.

For the next outing during my time in Keystone, I found Good Times Adventures. After being away from our dogs for a few days, I figured I’d go snuggle with some other pups to fill the time. Let the dog sledding adventures begin! I didn’t really know what to expect out of this excursion. Would it be a cheesy run around a track in a field of snow? I can tell you it certainly is not! Groups of ten dogs pull your sled through trails in the forest while you attempt to guide them and keep them on task. One person rides in the sled while another hangs on to the back. While the dogs are mostly following snowmobiles driven by the experienced dog sledding guide, they do have opinions of their own and occasionally pick new trails or go a bit faster than they probably should. We learned so much about the Siberian Huskies on our team, about how they are trained and all of their unique personalities. You can see the love that goes into the care of these dogs, and how much the guides enjoy sharing their knowledge and passion. As a bonus, Good Times Adventures also runs snowmobile outings, so if you make the trip you can certainly complete both in one day.

dogs

Just a few weeks ago we took a trip to Vail for a few days of vacation with our friends. Because this was a shorter trip, I didn’t want to pull the husband away from the mountain for any non-skier activities. Vail is a great town for wandering and shopping, but I really couldn’t see spending three full days shopping (unless it was with someone else’s money). So I took the plunge and registered for a full day snowboarding lesson. After a disaster ski lesson experience in 2009, I was pretty apprehensive about spending more time falling down the side of a hill. I reasoned with myself that at least time I would be strapped to the snowboard when I fell, so I wouldn’t have to spend half the day retrieving lost equipment from each fall I made. After grabbing my equipment from the rental location, I trekked over to Golden Peak and the Vail Ski School. I had booked in advance for a Friday, hoping to beat the Saturday crowds. As it turns out there were only two people registered for the beginner snowboard lesson, so we both ended up with great personal instruction throughout the day. My instructor, Colleen, was fantastic. She worked hard to explain each new skill, gave us plenty of opportunities to ask questions and practice the skills, and gave great feedback when something went wrong so we knew how to correct it on the next run. After I explained my fear of heights, she thanked me for letting her know and told me we could just see how the day went with no pressure of the ski lift hanging over my head. So I happily went down the same smaller hill over and over again for most of the day, learning new skills that would help me should I ever make it up to a higher point on the mountain. In the end, I didn’t progress far enough to feel comfortable moving on, but I did learn a whole bunch. I also enjoyed the experience so much, that if we return to Vail I would happily sign up for a 2 or 3 day class in order to lean more and feel more comfortable on the mountain on my own.

snowboard

While I won’t be qualifying for the Olympics anytime soon, I’ve learned that cold-weather vacations can be a lot of fun and a great change of pace. So next time you’re invited to Colorado in the winter, sign up for a few of these adventures and have fun discovering a different kind of relaxation!

Free Alcohol!

If you go to Florida, got ya! But since you are already reading, why not continue and learn about my most recent trip to a rum maker in southern Florida.

My in-laws are cooler than yours. Granted it probably isn’t a good idea to start off bragging but it’s the truth. On a recent trip to Ft. Myers FL my mother and father in-law took us on a tour of the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery. The tour was free and you can schedule ahead online for a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday tasting. Wicked Dolphin

wicked group

I have been on MANY wine tours and even a couple of brewery tours but this was a first for rum. Honestly, I don’t drink a lot of rum or mixed drinks, other than tequila, because it seems to me if you are over served on those kinds of sweet drinks, the hangovers are always worse. So I was intrigued to learn that if you drink the right rum with the right mixers and accidentally get over served (I didn’t for the making of this blog) that you can actually survive the next day and be a functioning member of society.

The biggest take away I learned from this rum tour is that rum is divided into three categories. Heads, Hearts, and Tails. ‘Heads’ is the kind of rum you can find for $8.00 a gallon and the stuff that causes the worst day after, ever. IE, what we drank in college. The smell is terrible and I assume the taste is even worse. It sounds like there is enough acetone in the ‘heads’ that the nail salons could save a ton and use it to take off my nail polish. The ‘tails’ is the back end of the batch so to speak, you don’t want to drink it but you can use it in the next batch of rum.

wicked dolphin

The ‘heart’ is where it is at! I was never a big rum drinker but when Wicked Dolphin passed around their signature Wicked Rum Drink, I was hooked. The drink was amazing and healthy. I mean, how could perfect silver rum, naturally flavored with coconut milk rum, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice be bad for you? See, I am sticking to that whole ‘eating better’ in 2016 thing already. And Wicked Dolphin wasn’t one of those stingy places that thinks their recipes are top secret, they actually tell you how to make it. I call that genius marketing and selling. You can find all kinds of recipes on their website but if you are super thirsty right now, here is the Wicked Rum recipe.

While they are not in Texas yet, fingers crossed they will be soon. Good thing the old fashioned mail will deliver to Texas. As long as you have a bootlegging relative in southern Florida. I was throughly impressed with the process and the final product. Even these two scotch drinkers approved of our new found favorite spirit, rum! Here is to giving an old college drink a fancy adult face lift and finding something other than wine to drink when adulting gets to be too much.

 

wicked guys

Have you ever been on a rum tour? Or another spirit tour? What is your favorite?

Cheers,

Amanda Sig

Outdoor Adventures in Palm Springs, California

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” — Susan Sontag

As I’ve gotten older and traveled more, planning a more active vacation than my typical all-inclusive beach extravaganza became more of a necessity. Once you hit your thirties, it takes a lot more effort to work off all those “free” drinks and meals once you return to reality. When I look for destinations in the United States, I immediately check TripAdvisor.com to see what kind of activities the destination includes. As long as there are 2-3 outdoor options that others have recommended, it is usually a good choice for staying active while seeing the sights. Chicago is an easy choice because of the lake front path offering scenic views of the city, as well as the fantastic parks they have in the downtown area with public art and gardens. Even just walking around the big city can give you enough daily steps to keep those extra meals and drinks from adding too much to your waist line. But after several trips to Chicago, I was ready for a new destination.

Fortunately, an old co-worker and great friend Christie suggested a girl’s weekend in Palm Springs, California. Neither of us had ever been there, but the airfare and hotel were cheap and Trip Advisor had enough activities to meet my criteria, so off we went! Due to crazy schedules, we didn’t have much time to research before leaving on the trip, but knew we wanted to take the Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto mountain, and possibly do some hiking as well. With this very loose plan, plus the agreement there would be daily naps, we set out to conquer Palm Springs.

Day 1 – The Aerial Tramway Challenge

Neither Christie or I are comfortable with heights. Possibly because we are pretty short, but also because you could easily slip over the side of a mountain and plunge to your death. We did not let this stop us from venturing to the tram. After a short delay while we learned how to read a map, we made it to the tram parking area, bought tickets and almost immediately boarded. In retrospect, it is probably good that we did not have much time at the bottom tram station. The waiting would have made the trip worse and we may have talked ourselves out of this death-defying trip to the top. During the 11-minute ascent, a lovely audio recording detailing the construction of the tramway plays while you rotate 360 degrees to see all of the views of the valley. I’m sure the views were lovely, but I opted to look at the floor, the back of the operator’s shirt, my nails, etc. Anywhere but out the windows! When we finally arrived at the mountain top tram station, Christie and I were quick to get out of the tram and on to solid ground. It was a pretty cloudy day, so views were limited, but the mist added a mysterious feel to the hiking trails.

feet
My view on the way to the top…
Forks, Washington anyone?
Forks, Washington anyone?

We opted to hike the Desert View Trail, which is a quick 1.5 mile hike with some short climbs and and scenic views. Due to the clouds, views were limited, but the trail was well marked and we enjoyed exploring the mountain top. The elevation made some of the climbs more challenging than I thought, but anyone in reasonable shape could complete this trail. Keep in mind the mountain top can be 30 degrees cooler than the valley, so bring the appropriate gear for the season. The Tramway website also has a weather page where you can check the current conditions.

Anyone seen Christie?
Anyone seen Christie?
view
Hard to believe there is a desert in the valley below

After our hike we stopped by the mountain station bar for some liquid courage before the decent in the tram. Everything used in the mountain station, including water for the bathrooms, has to be transported up in those trams. The bartender told us stories of windy winter transports in the tram on his way to work. I hope his job includes hazard pay!

On the way down, I worked up the courage to take a few photos. While the pictures are not impressive, I like to think of it as documentation of our accomplishment that day.

I may have used my timer so I didn't have to let go of the railing.
I may have used my timer so I didn’t have to let go of the railing.

After we were safely back in the valley, we hit the Bootlegger Tiki Bar in Palm Springs for some nerve-calming drinks. Highly recommend this tiny bar. Great service, creative drinks, and dark atmosphere so no one could tell we were sporting workout clothes.

Workout clothes in the bar? Absolutely!
Workout clothes in the bar? Absolutely!

Day 2 – Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

We did not have a solid plan when we woke up on Day 2. We had heard about the Salton Sea from a book and it looked amazing, but Trip Advisor saved us from this misguided plan (seriously, look this one up) and instead routed me toward the Joshua Tree National Park. A morning hike followed by an afternoon at the pool seemed like a great plan, so we headed out with sunscreen, hats and enough water to spend 2 hours wandering the desert.

When we finally located the south entrance ranger station, we were greeted with the news that the more popular hiking routes were at the north entrance, which was a solid 2 hour drive away. Not wanting to cut into our pool time, the somewhat judgmental ranger pointed out the Mastodon Peak trail just a mile down the road that met our requirement of under 2 hours to complete. While I would have enjoyed more mileage, I also didn’t want to sunburn before we ever made it to the lazy river at our hotel. We set out on the trail feeling pretty excited to see more of the desert we had driven through for the last couple of days.

crush
Before I realized we weren’t at the Peak yet.

The first mile was a pretty steady incline on a clearly marked trail. Some steeper inclines were made easier with stairs made out of stones from the area, but we definitely climbed enough elevation to count Day 2 as a leg day. After the first mile, there is signage encouraging a turn off the longer trail toward Mastodon Peak. Here the terrain became more strenuous, but it did not feel dangerous and the trail was still clearly marked. And then we came upon another sign. Mastodon Peak – .1 miles (trail not maintained). In the back loomed a giant rock formation that did not seem like an easy hike. After a quick debate, we opted to attempt the climb and see how far we could get before it was time to turn back. Quickly we realized “trail not maintained” actually means trail non-existent. Maybe at one time there was a clear path, but it was long gone. After some doubling back and head scratching, we decided to watch the crew of hikers that were a bit behind us and see what they did. And sure enough, they found a path and made it look easy! Off we went, following their lead.

Trail not maintained???
Trail not maintained???

About halfway to the top, I considered turning around. I questioned all my decisions in life up to that point and cursed my onset of vacation optimism that led me to this climb. But Christie kept calling out to be sure I hadn’t ditched her, so I pressed on. Some of the rocks were so large I had to crawl and somewhat jump to make any progress. One point was narrow enough that a wrong move meant a long way down to the bottom. But we made it! And the views at the top were glorious. Also there was a nice breeze, so we were happy to stay there for a bit and cool down.

After making our way back down, we retraced our steps back to the parking area and headed toward the hotel for some relaxation time. And food. And drinks.

Still can't believe we climbed that.
Still can’t believe we climbed that.

All things considered, I would easily return to Palm Springs. There is plenty of hiking, mountain top exploring, golfing, tennis and other activities to keep you moving during the day, and a great variety of restaurants to entertain you in the evening. I recommend staying away from the summer months due to the extreme desert heat. Even our October visit got a bit warm in the afternoons, but we were able to escape by visiting the mountain top or doing our hiking earlier in the day.

As we boarded our flight to return home, Christie and I felt pretty impressed with ourselves and our adventurous weekend. Don’t expect any Mt Everest climbing expeditions in our future, but I feel pretty certain another girl’s weekend like this is in the cards. Anyone want to join our next adventure? I promise there will be more naps this time.

Kendra Sig

The Galvestonian: A Beach Hotel Resort Review

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Escaping to the beach is one of my favorite pastimes because I can actually relax there.  Yes, with today’s hectic life which includes exercise, meetings, kids, meetings, work, meetings, dinners, meetings, cooking and so many other things (and meetings), it’s a miracle when you get a solid two days to do absolutely nothing.  This is when I will turn to my husband and we immediately think “Beach!”.

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I have been going to Galveston and Port Aransas since I was a kid, so I was pleasantly surprised to recently discover a new spot in Galveston called The Galvestonian we had not previously been to.  The Galvestonian is one of the newer resorts in Galveston and unlike all of the busy places on the Sea Wall, it is tucked away on the northeast shore and it’s right on the beach!  Here is my review of our first weekend getaway at The Galvestonian and all it has to offer.

Price: 5 out of 5 stars  5 out of 5

There are tons of places to stay at in Galveston and you can definitely find a cheaper place than The Galvestonian, but I found it very reasonable compared to other resort-like condos in the area.  First, I signed up on their newsletter so I could get email notifications when they have any deals going on.  This is how I found out about their latest special of getting a 4 night stay for the price of 2 nights.  I immediately called and booked got our reservations booked.  Very easy.  Usually, you can just book your stay online through their website but the special deal was limited to the first 20 callers who had received the email.

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Service: 4 out of 5 stars4 of 5

The staff at The Galvestonian was friendly, kind and very helpful.  We were late arriving for check-in so they called me to make sure that I was going to make it and also asked for an ETA to make sure someone would be at the desk waiting for our arrival.  I was impressed.  My only reservation for providing them with 5 out of 5 stars is when I made my reservations over the phone, they took down my email incorrectly and I never received and confirmation email.  I had to email and request a confirmation, which they immediately corrected and called me about.

Family Friendliness: 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

It can be difficult to find vacation spots that are truly family friendly.  I found The Galvestonian a delightful exception in that they go out of their way to accommodate families with children.  I will explain more by sprinkling bits of information on the rest of this post.

Amenities:  5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

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Pool My family loves to swim and a pool is essential to any vacation trip we make.  The Galvestonian has a huge deck with a pool that overlooks the beach and beach towel service in clear view.  Complimentary swim diapers are available at the front desk for baby guests.  Wow.  I was impressed.  We also enjoyed complimentary breakfast consisting of quiche, juice, coffee, fresh fruit and donuts.  We had our breakfast outside on the deck where there is plenty of seating and provides a picturesque view.  There’s plenty of room for tons of people to enjoy the pool at once without getting crowded.  Antonio is a strong swimmer and was all over the place.  Babyzilla likes to jump off the side and swim to Daddy.  There’s also hot tubs for a more relaxing poolside experience.  Again, plenty of space for both kids and adults to share the pool.

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Beach – One of the main advantages of staying at The Galvestonian is that it is one of three resorts located directly on the beach.  All of the spots on the Sea Wall require you to walk across the street and then find a place in the crowded beach.  The east beach is practically secluded and is extremely private.  We love this about this spot.  Plus, it’s cleaned every day.  Our frequent trips to the beach mean we have accumulated tons of beach/sand toys.  And guess what?  We forgot them and didn’t realize it until we were on the road.  I was pleasantly surprised to find our condo unit had a bag full of sand toys and then as we made our way to the beach, there is a huge area where you can find any kind of sand toy you can imagine to borrow and take to the beach!  They have sand toys, athletic balls, wagons, Frisbees, and tons of other swimming accessories for guests to use while there.  In order to enjoy the umbrella chairs the resort offers, you have to make reservations way in advance.  We didn’t know this but managed to book one last minute.  It costs $35 and you get it all day.  Standard price in Galveston.

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Other Amenities –  There is a huge picnic area with BBQ grills and plenty of seating if you want to grill your own food.  They also offer bikes for riding around town.  A workout area with treadmills and a stationary bike for you overachievers who work out on vacation.  And, a computer center for online usage.  The rooms have Wifi so we just used our laptops in our rooms.  You know, because we are those crazy work people…

Rooms:  5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

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Amazing.  Clean, very modern and extremely spacious.  We stayed in a single bedroom unit which is one of the smaller rooms you can stay in, and found it very comfortable for a family of four.  We had a full size kitchen, a dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom and two balconies overlooking the beach.  The Galvestonian offers 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom and 5 bedroom units.

Overall rating:  Almost five stars!overall stars

I will definitely pack up my family and make another trip to The Galvestonian!  Overall, a family friendly resort with amazingly beautiful views, private beach, luxury rooms, impeccable grounds maintenance and just a pleasure to stay in!  You can bet I’ll be checking their upcoming specials!

Where does your family take vacations?  Let us know in the comments section!

Cheers,

Elisa Sig

Crush Fitness: A Completely Biased Review

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During my recent stint of voluntary unemployment, I had the opportunity to visit Austin, Texas and check out my good friend Lander Peerman’s new fitness studio, Crush Fitness. I met Lander in 2012 while looking for something that would inspire me to get out of my fitness rut. She had a studio here in Dallas and after one class I was hooked. Lander’s unique training style made me want to get in workouts each week, instead of dreading them. The progress I made over the course of 10 months was exciting and helped keep me motivated.

Unfortunately, some life events meant Lander needed to move to Austin. Although I was extremely disappointed when the Dallas studio closed, I worked hard to maintain the progress and forward momentum Lander had inspired. It was never quite the same, but I was so thankful for the encouragement Lander had given me, and continues to give me even from her new home.

The best news came when Lander told me her new studio would open in Austin this summer. Lander and her partner/fiancee Noah Wright planned every detail of the new studio and it would open toward the end of my unemployment time, so I had some free time to head south on I-35 and check out a class. I loved the class so much I wanted to share, so here is my 100% biased review!

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Crush Fitness is in a fantastic location just on the edge of downtown Austin. When you walk in you are immediately welcomed by friendly staff who will get you checked in for class and show you around the studio. Lockers with built in locks are provided, as well as a water fountain where you can refill your water bottle with cold, filtered water.

When it is time for class, you head in to pick a treadmill and start an easy warm up. The room is lit with red ambient lighting which makes everyone look good, and the low light also makes it a bit less intimidating if you are new. Classes are 55 minutes long and include rotations on the treadmill as well as time on the bench for strength training. The movement between tread and bench keeps the class moving and prevents that wall you can sometimes hit during a workout.

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Tread intervals can include hills, sprints, or sprints on hills depending on how feisty your instructor is feeling. Your instructor will queue you throughout the time on the treadmill, so no need to memorize a routine. My class included people of all fitness levels, so don’t be concerned if you aren’t ready to run on a treadmill yet. Challenge yourself with inclines and maybe even a jog if you normally only walk on the treadmill. Your instructor will give some suggestions and help you push yourself so that you get a great workout each time.

Bench intervals can include all sort of exercises, but Crush uses a weekly schedule to target specific muscle groups each day of the week. Check the schedule to know which muscle group you will be focusing on during your workout. Free weights in a large range of sizes and mats are provided. Benches in the middle of the room are set before you arrive to give you a designated place in the room to complete your exercises. This is typically my favorite part of the workout because there is always a new movement I haven’t tried before, so I’m constantly challenged to keep my focus and be sure I’m doing the movement correctly.

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The end of your workout will include some stretching before you exit through the back of the studio directly toward the water fountain, which you will probably want to crawl into and wash off all the sweat from your fantastic workout.

Lander has worked hard to hire instructors with similar styles of motivation and encouragement that can make class fun and challenging. Her personality is infectious and you can see the instructors are truly excited to help you toward your fitness goals. If you live in Austin I highly recommend you register for a class and see what Crush Fitness can do to help you Crush your fitness goals.

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Kendra Sig

Shoe Bomber Ruins Travel For All Women Everywhere; Packing Make-Up For Travel.

Men have it too easy! No menstrual cycles, no yeast infections/UTIs, no child birth, and definitely no pain when it comes to packing for a flight. Apparently the closest a man can get to ‘feeling our pain’ of child birth is if they pass a kidney stone. I have never had a child or a kidney stone but thanks to some jack wagon who attempted to blow up a plane with his shoe, I have to figure out how to pack all my shit into a 3-1-1 scenario. So basically the same thing I assume.

On a very recent trip, like two days ago recent, I watched my handsome left brained husband pack his toiletries for our trip home. Below is an actual picture of his TSA approved ‘liquids.’ A regular sized thing of deodorant and a mini size of shave cream. Oh, and a razor, probably cause he didn’t feel like getting another bag for the dumb thing.

The struggle for men is NOT real.
The struggle for men is not real.

Where as I on the other hand need a good 20-30 minutes just to mentally and physically prepare to pack my liquids for a trip. Being that I once traveled so much that I gained Platinum status on AA in a span of three months, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are my tips on how to make it as painless as possible.

  1. NORDSTROM & SEPHORA: we all know that markups on anything we buy retail is the equivalent to what my grandmother refers to as “getting screwed and never being kissed.” Now it’s your chance to return the favor. Go hit up your favorite retail locations for packets or samples of your daily routine. If it is a short trip (2-3 days) you can get away with a packet or two of an item or a single sample of your every day go-to products. Don’t try to shove everything in your cleansing routine into your carry on, your face won’t suffer that much if you miss your retinol for a couple nights. (And if it does, go see a derm.) You can also purchase individual sized items on Amazon of meds and other various items for quick travel. IE, Tide and Pepto.

TIP: bring alcohol wipes and a safety pin, then sterilize said pin to puncture a small hole in the packets so you don’t waste product by ripping it open.

Making friends with people at your regular make-up or Sephora counter pays off.
Making friends with people at your regular make-up counter pays off.

 

  1. TRACKDOT: you may be wondering why I am plugging an IT product in the middle of a make-up post, but hear me out. Every now and again you will get on a completely packed flight and need or be forced to check your bag. If you have packed your toiletries in your roller, it could be sayonara sucker if you don’t have Trackdot. It is the travelers equivilent to the ‘find my phone’ app but instead picks up your luggage by cellular signal. And it works internationally!!

TIP: Trackdot is worth the investment for one device, but if you travel more often than occasional vacations or internationally, they send out deals from time to time and you can get more devices. Our family of two has four.

Leave the Amex but DON'T leave home without this!
Leave the Amex but DON’T leave home without this!

3. TRAVEL BOTTLES: If you are going to be gone for longer than 2-3 days, like say a week or more, you will need more than 1-2 packets to get you through. My easiest go-to for empty travel bottles that you can fill yourself is The Container Store but if you want to be super OCD like me, comment below and I can tell you about the research I did and how I found the best travel bottles ever for down sizing your best products. Try to avoid buying travel size if you can, per ounce you get ripped off! Hence why you need to hit up retailers for samples.

My secret bottles, comment for more info.
My secret bottles, comment for more info.

 

4. MAKE-UP: my newest obsession is the Trish McEvoy planner. It’s as if MAC and Franklin Covey had a sloppy evening in a great wine bar that lead to an even greater one-night stand and made my perfect make-up travel companion. If you don’t travel enough to make this kind of investment or don’t want to spend that kind of money, I have two options. 1. EBay, you can always find the planners on eBay but avoid paying retail. Or 2. MAC has great options for compact make up travel like their ProPalettes. I had the MAC pallets and popped out the little pods which fit nicely into the Trish planner. Either way, you can’t go wrong. The planner stores make up and brushes all in one.

TIP: Always make sure the pigmentation levels in the makeup products you purchase are at least 30% or higher. Better to need less product for more coverage than the other way around.

Trish planner with MAC palette pods.
Trish planner with MAC palette pods.

 

If you have never lost a checked bag or passed a kidney stone consider yourself lucky. If you have, then you know how much of a pain it is. I traveled frequently for work and for fun as well (28,000 miles for our honeymoon) so I feel I have figured a couple things out. Here are my other favorite travel items (Tieks) and tips from my fellow 3NonBlonde BFF on traveling with kids.

Let me know what you do to make packing hair/make-up items a little less of a hassle below. Or reach out to me in the comment section and I can hook you up with all the travel bottles you will ever need.

Amanda Sig